Mammoth, illustrated by Adam Beer, written by Anna Kemp

Mammoth, illustrated by Adam Beer and written by Anna Kemp, is one of the six books on the shortlist for the 2022 Klaus Flugge Prize.

The judges described it as joyful and full of humour.

Former Klaus Flugge Prize judge, Senior Lecturer in Education: Primary English and Children's Literature, Mat Tobin interviewed Adam about his book.

Mat: I fell in love with Mammoth when I was in a bookshop with my young sons and bought it there and then. The following day, the Klaus Flugge Prize team had sent me a copy to read from the longlist! I just enjoy the whole playfulness of the story and making a mammoth ‘work’, visually, in New York must have taken some doing!

Yours is one of the few picturebooks shortlisted in which the writer and artist are different people. Can you tell us a little about you came to work with Anna’s words and how you made sure that you brought your own story to the picturebook too?

Adam: My work got spotted at my MA graduation show. The editor thought I might make a good fit for Anna Kemp, so they brought her along to take a look and she gave me the thumbs up.

I feel really lucky to have worked with Anna and the team at Simon & Schuster on my first book. I don’t know about bringing my own story - I hope I just added a bit of flavour!

Mat: You’ve had a fascinating route into children’s picturebooks and illustration. From storyboarding in Teletubbieland and working for other clients such as the BBC and Netflix. Can you give us a little insight into that journey and how you think the skills you learned in these roles helped you with Mammoth?

Adam: I’ve worked as a storyboard artist for over 20 years in TV, animation and games. Storyboarding involves taking the script and sketching out all the shots so the director and crew have a visual guide for the show. My first job was on the Teletubbies where as well as storyboarding I helped wrangle rabbits, clean the custard machine and fling Teletubbie toast around. It was the best job ever!

I love storyboarding but felt increasingly drawn to narrative illustration. So in 2017 I went back to school and did the MA Children’s Illustration at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge (part time). I loved it and learnt so much, from my fellow students as well as the lecturers.

Some of my skills from storyboarding do cross over, but not as much as you would think!

They are very different disciplines and it’s nice to bounce from one to the other.

This sequence is from ‘Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ and it shows the evil Skeksis having a disgusting banquet. It was a bit of a dream come true to work on. I got to see all these amazing departments working together under one roof; the puppeteers, the creature shop, costume, set design, props. It was amazing!

Mat: On the note of your journey into illustration. Can you tell us a little about your time at the SCWBI conference, winning the ‘Beginning Middle and End’ and the ‘Monster tea Party’ MA work? I loved the look of Gordak and would enjoy seeing more. Did the event and speakers help shape your thinking as an illustrator?

Adam: I wasn’t able to attend the conference due to work commitments but it was a great experience as I had never entered a competition before. I would definitely recommend it. The deadline and brief really spurred me on to get the project finished, to a pitch-able level at least. I’m going to revisit this project soon as I would love to get Monster Tea Party into bookshops!

Mat: Can you talk us through your relationship with Helen Mackenzie Smith and Jane Buckley, you Editor and Art Director, and how they worked alongside you to help reach the final piece? Perhaps on how they helped you find that ‘flow’ you were looking for.

Adam: Helen and Jane are very aware of the overall pace and rhythm of a picture book as well as the finer detail and technical aspects of preparing a book for print (a whole other dark art!). They pushed me (in the nicest way possible) to make better and better work and it really paid off.

The cover was probably the hardest illustration to work out. There was a lot of back and forth with that one! Jane is such great designer, she knows what will have impact on a bookshelf and suggested that we set it at night. That really helped me simplify the colours and make a stronger image.

Mat: One the aspects of Mammoth that I love is the gentle humour throughout. A little like Pixar, it feels that it’s pitched at both older and younger readers. When you were putting Mammoth together were you aware of the breath of your audience at all and how important is humour in literature to you

Adam: I hope there is enough detail for older readers to enjoy. I think all my favourite picture books have a warmth and silliness to them. Outside of picture books, Jim Henson’s Muppets and Sesame Street were a big touchstone for me with Mammoth. The Muppet Show was such anarchic fun, full of humour and heart. I love the big crazy monsters like Sweetums and the Electric Mayhem Band. Plus they are all set in the city, which still feels rare in kids TV (and picturebooks!).

Mat: In your video, you spoke about some sites and ‘classic’ moments in New York that did not manage to make the final cut in Mammoth - I was also glad to see Mammoth jogging in Central Park make it. What other sites from New York would you like Mammoth to have visited? What makes New York such a special site to you?

Adam: They were mostly film references and I think I squeezed them all in there. The Plaza Hotel from Home Alone 2, the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park (Elf, The Odd Couple, Marathon Man, The Avengers etc. etc.), Breakfast at Tiffany’s got a nod. Also MCA from the Beastie Boys is playing bass in the parade at the end.

I’ve always loved New York, there’s nowhere like it. When you visit you already feel like you know it having grown up with it on film and TV. (For the really eagle eyed there is a sculpture from Beetlejuice in the art gallery.)

Mat: Are there any contemporary artists/illustrators whose work you admire so much that you think everyone should encounter them?

Adam: Here’s a list:

Matt Sewell

Rosie Haine

Sophie Burrows

Izzy Burton

Briony May Smith

And all of the amazing artists & directors at Nexus Studios.

Mat: You also mentioned in the video that you are working on some new projects. Can you share a little with us including Solo which is, I believe, your first ‘solo’ adventure into picture books?

Adam: Solo just came out! It developed from a project on my MA Course and was inspired by a dog I met on a trip to Norway. It’s a story of navigating friendship and joining in (or not). But mostly it’s about 9 dogs tearing around on an island having fun.

Mammoth is published by Simon and Schuster Children’s Books, 978-1843654650, £6.99 pbk.


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